Hindrocket at the indispensable Power Line notes recent analysis and polling data that have led him to re-consider recent posts in which he downgraded Bush's re-election chances. His and Republican pollster Ed Goeas' comments on successful strategies of incumbent presidents should also help the rest of us to put the Clelands and Chaits, and Deans and Clarks, in perspective.
It often seems that one "Bush lied" lie after another is passing virtually uncontradicted into public consciousness, and that the causes and justifications for the war in Iraq have been systematically reduced and re-cast in their narrowest forms, rendered as straw man arguments where they are recalled at all. The occupation and incipient re-construction of Iraq have been reported in such a way that one bilious fool after another feels secure in declaring the situation "chaos" or "a mess" or "a disaster," even as a recovering U.S. economy is still being described in almost equivalent terms. We've seen this movie before, though few seem to remember the first-term "Reagan Recession," which coincided as well with a vigorous and sustained worldwide mass protest against Reagan's defense and foreign policies. Back then, the opposition didn't just disagree with or even merely hate Reagan. We (for I was one of them, as a very young man) believed that he and his policies posed an imminent threat to "The Fate of the Earth" - the title of a then-popular peace movement book by Jonathan Schell, who, as it happens, is haunting the same approximate locale twenty years later.
Needless to say, Reaganomics did not pave the way for an economic depression that was foreshortened only by nuclear apocalypse, but we don't need to go back a generation to draw comfort from history. It was not very long ago at all that a number of well-placed observers declared Afghanistan a quagmire - shortly before Mazar-i-Sharif, Kabul, and Kandahar fell in a precipitous cascade. And it was only a few months ago that exactly the same group of people were predicting that the war "on" Iraq would lead to a humanitarian, environmental, and military catastrophe. Not much later, once this war "on" Iraq had actually commenced, they were again shouting quagmire scarcely a week into the operation, inspired by a sandstorm and some pot-shots from Fedayeen in pick-ups. The famous "plan" was a "fiasco," and war opponents could hardly conceal the pleasure with which they anticipated the public beheadings of Tommy Franks and Donald Rumsfeld.
Now, the very same group - from Michael Wolff to Howard Dean to every hopeless crackpot who ever leaked on a web site - are offering virtually identical judgments, and the only significant difference may be that they now are operating over a re-extended time scale. Combat, especially in its contemporary forms, accelerates and heightens everything. In the aftermath, both soldiers and civilian observers have to "come down," and re-adjust their minds and very physiologies to processes that play out over months and years rather than minutes and days. By this mathematics, as applied to the Bush's re-election strategy, the Summer and Fall of 2003 may correspond approximately to Week 2 of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with the battle of DC/Baghdad still a year-week away. In this light, the main dangers for the sober and uncracked among us remain twofold - overengagement and overconfidence. For our troops speeding to Baghdad, it made no sense either to slow down and confront every zealot determined to die for much-less-than-zero, or, on the other hand, to forget that there was a war on, that logistics needed to be handled properly and that real obstacles needed to be overcome. For President Bush and his team, it likewise makes no sense to lose their way in skirmishes with Ted Kennedy or Aaron Brown, but it also would be a serious mistake to enter the necessary battles over the Iraq supplemental appropriation or international support for reconstruction without careful preparation for victory.
In other words, as far as war, politics, the economy, and just about anything else that matters far too much to far too many for anyone to lose a night's sleep over, there is as ever much work to do, but things are still going inexpressibly better than any of us might reasonably have feared or expected last February, or all the more during the Fall of 2001. So long as current trends hold, the news is more likely to get better - capture or killing of Hussein and/or Bin Laden, free elections in Iraq, employment beginning to catch up with economic growth, international allies creeping back into the sheepfold. As for electoral politics, the strategy Bush appears to be pursuing versus his potential opponents is clearly the right one - as Hindrocket quotes Goeas:
[The] challengers have the luxury of being in a time period where they can criticize what they do not like while taking no accountability for their own proposals--that time will end when they have a nominee. It is also a phase of the campaign when the incumbent is organizing and collecting resources, but little response is given to the onslaught of attacks from those who want to be president. This is smart politics for two reasons: 1) there is no need to answer each and every attack from the opposition (better to focus on the nominee when there can be a certain amount of accountability for what he said/proposed early in the campaign season), and 2) the lack of a response usually causes a feeding frenzy among the opposition's presidential candidates, they get more bold, and they often say stupid things! Patience is the key for the incumbent.
Needless to say, there are wild cards out there: Democrats may, for instance, be thinking (I won't accuse them of "hoping") that a major EVENT may all at once provide them with a winning hand, but is it reasonable at all to presume that, for instance, a new 9/11 would cause the public to urge a less aggressive response to threats - that it would increase a public desire to think first about the feelings of our supposed allies, to await the results of UN deliberations, or to consult the world's assorted hedgers, opportunists, anti-American idelogues, and always-certain/never-right experts before committing ourselves to action? There are other examples that anyone could come up with - from assassinations and earthquakes to transformational scientific discoveries, events of the type that we futures traders refer to as "exogenous" (relative to internal market forces) - but by their very nature they are unpredictable, and grounds neither for optimism nor pessimism, and even less a reason to take too much to heart the next set of "bold... stupid things" the Bush-haters and fellow travelers come up with.